Winemaking is a complex, delicate craft. The success or failure of a wine depends mainly on the grapes, and the quality and flavor of the grapes depend on where they grow. While wild grapes can grow easily with little oversight, wine grapes require careful care and tending. Neglected vineyards can go wild if not looked after.

Wine grapes also require certain conditions to grow properly, ideally between 30- and 50 degrees latitude. In the United States, this means California and northern Michigan. In Europe, it means France and Italy, two of the most famous winemaking areas in the world. Vineyards can be found elsewhere, but these two countries usually come to mind first in the wine world.

Italy’s wine industry

Before, Italy united into a single country, but after the fall of Rome, a handful of small nations controlled the peninsula. One of these was Venice, centered around the city with the same name. Venice grew rich, trading across the Mediterranean and funneling goods from distant lands into Europe. One of those goods was wine. While portions of Italy had areas that could grow wine, they sometimes put more effort into selling other people’s wine than growing their own.

Ancient Romans also enjoyed wine, both for trade and consumption. Several ancient Romans of note spoke of their favorite vintages. For example, Augustus, the first Emperor of Rome, preferred a well-known, quality vintage called Setine. Unfortunately, wide varieties of wine grapes grown in Italy were lost over the centuries due to neglect and construction projects. Emperor Nero, for example, destroyed an old vineyard and the accompanying vines to build a canal.

A similar occurrence happened in Venice, but this time the vines were found, recovered, and nurtured to bring back a vintage. While historically significant for the wine trade, Italian vineyards came and went across the centuries. Bringing back old vintages allowed cities like Venice to expand their part in the wine market.

The Venice Lagoons

The vines called Dorona di Venezia were found crawling up an old church. The remains belonged to a thirteenth-century monastery, which, when possible, made their wine for religious services and sold it to help support the monastery. The vines were identified as a variety that had been considered lost to time. The discoverer of the vines, Gianluca Bisol, bought some nearby land in the Venice lagoon, a once vibrant wine-growing region that went out of favor as Venice’s trade empire made trading wine cheaper and more profitable than production.

, The History of Wine and Venice

Old Town Venice Lagoon Horst-schlaemma, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Venice lagoons were a popular location for vineyards like the abandoned monasteries. Not only did the area provide excellent drainage and space for the vines, but it also allowed growers to flood the land to remove the salt. As an ocean port brimming with saltwater, that salt can also seep into the surrounding lands. Removing saltwater is an essential part of the process of maintaining the vines.

, The History of Wine and Venice

Gianluca Bisol

A Hunt for Freshwater

Finding that freshwater for Bisol required digging a 600-foot-deep well, but it was done as the purchased land got ready for the long-lost vines. In the process, he managed to find 88 vines to transplant and start his new vineyard.

Not only did Bisol want to bring the old vines back to make wine, but he also wanted to make wine in the style of ancient Venice. That meant macerating the juice for 40 days with their skins and aging it for two years. It was a risky investment with several skeptics at the time, but the dorona wine returned and continued to provide a taste of wine from the past.

The rescued vintage is only twenty-five miles by boat from Venice, allowing easy access to global markets for the dorona wine and big tourist business. While Bisol’s business has expanded, the wine remains a significant component, as is fitting for wine so rooted in Venetian and Italian history.

Conclusion

Vintages and vineyards come and go across the decades, centuries, and even millennia. For two thousand years, Venice has, in one way or another, been a significant part of European and especially Italian wine production and trade. In ancient Rome, wine was the drink of choice for the majority of the Italian people, and the various vintages were traded and collected just like in modern times. As Rome fell, Venice rose as a prominent Italian city-state. Their connections across the Mediterranean and beyond allowed them easy access to the wine trade, making the city wealthy. As a side-effect, local wine growing got neglected. More recently, appreciation for older vintages and varieties has allowed wines like the dorona to thrive. One way or another, Venice remains firmly entrenched in the wine business.

For further reading, consider the following:

https://www.cntraveler.com/story/the-winery-that-resurrected-venetian-dorona-wine

https://www.seevenice.it/en/wine-and-vineyards-venice-and-its-islands/

https://penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/encyclopaedia_romana/wine/wine.html

 

This Day in History

June 25, 1570 – The Ottoman-Venetian War begins. This war, fought between Venice and the Ottoman Empire, would see Venice lose control of Cyprus to the Ottoman Empire and, with it, the island’s famous wines.

May 12, 1797 – The Republic of Venice falls, changing hands between the Austrian and French Empires before becoming part of the Austrian Empire until a unified Italy was formed. No longer an independent nation, the wine trade continued, as did Venetian patriotism.

September 20, 1870 – Rome is captured by forces seeking to unify Italy. For the first time since the Roman Empire, Italy is a truly unified country. As a prominent city within that nation, Venice remains a vibrant port for commerce and tourism, with wine remaining a vital aspect of both.

 

 

 

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